Over the weekend, outgoing Gov. Kenneth Mapp vetoed the contentious “Dig Once” legislation (Bill 32-0204) that would have mandated any government entity digging to instal underground conduits to either ensure the conduit is big enough to accommodate multiple communications providers or allow a communications provider to install its own conduit at the same time.
Mapp said the bill could make the territory liable for the $90 million in federal funding used to build the V.I. Next Generation Network, a government-owned fiber-optic network.
In a statement, Mapp said the creation and construction of the assets of the viNGN happened through a $90 million federal grant with terms and conditions and a V.I. government bond issue of $35 million. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration BroadbandUSA Organization guides the terms and conditions of the $90 million federal grant.
“If this bill were to become law, it would violate the provisions of a metropolitan owned network. In essence, this measure allows commercial ISP companies to access into viNGN’s middle-mile network conduit, which was paid for by NTIA funds and USVI matching funds bonds. Signing this measure into law would effectively relinquish viNGN’s metropolitan network to commercial ISPs. At that point, the territory, the Government of the Virgin Islands, will have to repay $90 million dollars in federal funds to NTIA,” Mapp wrote.
Mapp also said after last year’s hurricanes, FEMA has accepted that viNGN is a governmental entity and is providing financial resources for hardening and repair.
“Co-mingling for profit business on the infrastructure without requiring a fee or assessing a charge would result in serious consequences to the local treasury. This cannot, and could not, have been the intended result of this bill. Accordingly, I must veto the measure,” Mapp said.
The bill was supported by local phone, internet and cable television provider Viya, which would have benefitted from the provisions.. The government-owned fiber optic network V.I. Next Generation Network opposed it and argued it would give Viya an unfair advantage over other ISPs.
“This bill, if passed, will allow the largest internet service provider in the territory access into federally funded underground conduits at no charge in an effort to gain a competitive advantage against viNGN and its 16 ISP customers,” viNGN President H. Mark McGibbon said in written testimony to the Legislature. Like Mapp, McGibbon also said allowing wholly commercial entities like Viya to piggy-back on federally-funded conduits might put the territory at risk of having to return up to $90 million to the federal government.
Viya officials issued a statement saying the bill was not a threat to viNGN.
“Nothing in Bill No. 32-0204 would impact viNGN’s operations, except the requirement that it coordinate with other communications providers when it installs, relocates, or improves conduit; and give other communications providers the option to install their own conduit or secure access to viNGN’s conduit at cost-based rates. It is hard to see how such requirements would drive viNGN out of business,” the Viya statement read.